Dogs are known as being pack animals, well most of them are. However, there are some dogs that are afraid of other dogs. Fear is a normal emotion when it comes to survival but a problem can arise when there is no need for your dog to be afraid of other dogs and this fear can become a phobia. This, in turn, can cause your dog to get stressed while on walks and they could end up causing fights with other dogs who just want to say ‘hi’. Another aspect of this phobia could result in them cowering away with their tail between their legs and their ears down. Their fear of their own kind could be caused by a few reasons which will be covered, but, not to worry, there are ways that this particular phobia can be overcome. With enough time and patience, your dog could end up enjoying the company of their own kind even without their harnesses or collars.
Although there could be a number of different reasons why your dog is fearful of other dogs, especially when they are not a threat to you or themselves, these three reasons always seem to come up:
- Lack of socialization
- Traumatic experiences
- Fear that is reinforced by their owners
They Are Not Used To Other Dogs
There could be a possibility that your dog is just not used to being around other dogs. They can lack social skills due to their lack of socialization. A number of things could influence this such as being taken away from their sidings at a very early age which means that they had had less connect with other puppies when they were young. Another aspect of their lack of social skills could be that they do not have another dog around them in their adopted family that they can connect with. Therefore, when another dog approaches them while they are on a walk, they could freak out since they do not know what to do or how to behave. However, they could suffer from social anxiety and this could be relatable to some people who also suffer from it.
Past Traumatic Experiences
This can be a tough situation especially if you have a rescue dog whose past life you do not know about or even a non-rescue dog who you cannot keep your eye on them 24/7. It could even happen when they are a young puppy and they had an awful, traumatic experience with another dog, which makes them think all other dogs are the same. It could also happen that a small dog has a fear of larger ones who tend to play rough. This can make the smaller one want to growl, bark and behavior badly while around a big dog. However, a big dog can also become traumatized due to their past experiences with other dogs so it is not only limited to puppies and small dogs.
Mistakenly Reinforcing Fear
This is the last reason on the list that could be quite a common one on why your dog could be afraid of other dogs. Owners do not like to see their dogs stressed or scared and their natural reaction is to calm them down by comforting them and talking softly to them. This is not a good idea since it actually can do the opposite of what the owners intended. Instead of telling the dog that the other dogs are not dangerous, owners are accidentally reinforcing that their dog is right to be fearful of other dogs which in turn forms a phobia of their own kind. Owners do not intend to fuel their dog’s fear but mistakes can be made with the best intentions.
How to Help Them Get Over Their Fear
Fear can be a difficult thing to get over and the same can be said for dogs and their fears. Therefore, you would have to be patient and lets your dog take their time to gain more confidence and the feeling of security. Rushing them could end up causing more traumas as well as the possibility of your dog losing trust in you. You would not like to go on a lost dog search because you pushed your dog too far to face their fear.
However, if they do come across another dog one of the best things that you can do as an owner is to remain neutral and calm. It would be a bad idea to comfort your dog since it could teach them the wrong thing about their reaction to the other dog. Instead, play it off as if it is natural and not a bother which it is but your dog could need a bit more time to see it this way. But there are other ways that you could try in order to slowly weave them off their phobia. You could also view the following methods as steps whereby your dog gets closer and closer to other dogs without stressing out.
Method 1: Habituation
This will require you to take your dog to places that you know other dogs will be such as dog parks. This will teach them not to react to environments that they find stressful and that other dogs are not a threat. However, you should keep your eye on your dog while doing this method since you do not want to stress them out and rush them into something that they are not ready for. Let them decide how close they want to go to the other dogs and how long they wish to stay for. You could think of it as just walking in the dog park with your dog without paying attention to the other dogs there.
Method 2: Desensitization
Desensitization is similar to that of Habituation but the distance between your dog and another dog is shorter. This method requires you to get your dog closer and closer to another one every time you take them for a walk. You can start with getting your dog closer to a calm dog at the beginning (you may want to organize with a friend who has a calm dog to come over) until they build up confidence and then you can try getting them closer to a more hyperactive dog. They will be exposed to different types of dogs with different personalities so it would be a good idea to get them used as many types as possible so that they know what to do around certain characters. While Habituation could be viewed as just walking around the dog park, desensitization could be viewed as actively and slowly getting closer to another dog.
This method could be used whenever that is why there is no number in front of it. Basically, when your dog is around other dogs they could get stressed out and this can make the experience a negative one. One of the ways to teach your dog that being around other dogs is a good thing is by doing ‘counter-conditioning’. This means connecting a stressful situation (being around other dogs) with a positive experience. This could be achieved by playing with your dog while they are around other dogs. They could begin to link the presence of other dogs with game-time with you, their owner. This could be done while you are doing Habituation or even while you are taking a break from working on Desensitization. Or it can be a method all by itself.
Actually, all these methods can be combined and that all depends on what your dog can handle. It is important to go at the pace that your dog is comfortable with. However, at the beginning of their process, you should start off with short sessions around other dogs and each time making it a touch longer. With time and patience, your dog will learn to play and relax around other dogs. Socializing can be an important aspect to your dog’s life and you would not like unnecessary fear to dictate where your dog should go and when your dog can go out. This can be quite limiting to them as well as yourself.
Helping your dog get over their fear of other dogs could be a bit tricky as well as time-consuming but with love, support and patience from you they can do it. Take it at their pace and keep your eyes on them to make sure their stress level does not hit the stars. Once they get over their fear they could end up loving you even more as well as enjoy their lives in the company of their doggy friends. You would not like to be limited to where you can take them on walks and the chances of them running away or biting another dog is too much of a risk for you to take. Your dog does not like to be scared so help them get over their fear.